Three Calgarians breathe life into former convent
A cool redesign is transforming a former convent in Calgary’s inner-city into a haven dedicated to seniors experiencing Alzheimer’s and dementia. Called Life House, the pilot project is the brainchild of Sano Stante, Cory Krygier, and Twyla Hayes, three Calgarians who are passionate about sustainably reshaping established Calgary communities, and reconfiguring the look of elder care.
“Our focus is on providing a high quality of life and maintaining social integration with the community,” said Sano Stante, president Sano Stante Real Estate Inc. and former president of CREB®.
Life House’s pilot project will provide residential housing and health and memory care for 10 residents within the newly renovated, 3,500 square foot brick clad former Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate convent in Calgary’s northeast neighbourhood of Renfrew.
What separates this facility from others is its intimate setting nestled into a community structure, the level of care (based on a ratio of one medical staff to five residents), the innovative design of the home and its cutting-edge holistic behaviour therapy program.
The Life House partnership brought together Stante’s real estate acumen, Krygier’s home building expertise as the co-founder of Jig Saw Builders, and Hayes’ cutting-edge elder care knowledge.
The long-term goal is to create a series of smaller, intimate elder care homes throughout the city – homes that provide impactful and meaningful care designed to engage residents, their families and the community, allowing residents to stay put in their communities as they age.
I think society has really missed the ball on what aging can look like – it can be really beautiful, even with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The project’s genesis unfolded two years ago when long-time friends Stante and Krygier began to blue-sky ideas.
“We knew that there was a demand for this type of care and we knew that we could design and build the homes, but we had no idea how to operate them,” said Krygier.
“A year later, enter Twyla. All of a sudden we had a team that was well positioned to do exactly what we wanted to do.”
Krygier, who has been building sustainable, inner-city homes for almost 20 years, is the lead on the project’s redesign and build. The renovation involved stripping the former convent, which was built in 1967, to its studs and reworking the layout, using green building techniques – no harsh chemicals, no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and finishes.
“Every element in the home is designed with healing in mind – the colours, the lighting, the amount of exposure to light, the type of smells, the types of plants – all of these details are extremely important when it comes to caring for someone who is fragile, because everything impacts them,” said Twyla Hayes, founding member of Life House Cares, the non-profit arm of the organization that will be running the care programs.
Heated floors in the bathrooms, warm cozy heated blankets for after the bath, a Japanese Zen-inspired garden with greenhouses make this home special. Bedrooms are ocean-themed with a nurturing ambiance; the living and social spaces are filled with bright colours, stimulating communication and interaction.
A full-time personal chef caters to meal requests and food is served when residents are hungry, not at specified times. Hayes uses coloured plates to assist residents with internal hunger cues – red plates subconsciously trigger less eating, whereas blue plates signal comfort with eating.
“We really want to hone in and help people without words. So instead of saying, ‘stop eating you’ve already had 12 meals today,’ we can put the food on a red plate.”
Hayes says that in Alberta the typical Alzheimer’s and dementia care scenario can be overwhelming. “People typically are rooted to institutionalized living and often these facilities can house up to 150 residents with a high patient to care ratio. It can often be one nurse to 75 patients.”
But she says the illness looks completely different with Life House.
“It’s not even the same thing. I think society has really missed the ball on what aging can look like – it can be really beautiful, even with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
In addition to its residential component, Life House will also be providing affordable, in-home care to residents in the community.
Hayes is trusting that Life House will reshape what the care model looks like.
“Now any community can have full-time, affordable medical care right in its back yard,” she said.
The Renfrew Life House will be ready for occupancy in the fall of 2017.
For more information on Life House and its services, please visit www.lifehousecares.org.